Religion and Politics Among British Asians

The British general election may have come and gone, but detailed results of the opinion polls conducted during the campaign are still becoming available. One such with religious interest is the ICM poll for the BBC Asian Network, conducted by telephone between 26 March and 4 April 2010 among a representative sample of Asian people aged 18 and over in Great Britain. The data tabulations are available at:

The questions all related to political matters, with the results disaggregated by religious affiliation. The sample included 263 Muslims, 138 Hindus, 39 Sikhs and 51 of other religions. Although these sub-groups are still quite small, the numbers are appreciably greater than are to be found in comparable polls among the entire British electorate which were fielded during the general election campaign.

Some of the more interesting findings from a religious perspective include the following:

  • 70% of all Asians said that their religion would not influence their decision about which party to vote for. The proportion was highest among Hindus (84%) and Sikhs (81%). It was lowest for Muslims (60%), 11% of whom said that their faith would play a major part in determining their voting and 24% a little.
  • 41% of Muslims said the Labour Party best comprehends Asian issues, compared with 6% selecting the Conservatives and 13% the Liberal Democrats. Hindus were far more positive about the Conservatives (23%), although 37% of them still thought that Labour has the best understanding of Asian issues.
  • Party honours were more even when the question turned to which of the party leaders respondents would most like to invite over for a curry. Although Gordon Brown was out in front (nominated by 33% of Muslims and 36% of Hindus), David Cameron was not far behind (27% and 32% respectively).
  • Muslims were primarily exercised about the economy, health, education and foreign policy (including the war in Afghanistan). Each of these four issues was identified as important by 17% or 18% of Muslims. For Hindus and Sikhs the economy was twice as significant and foreign policy of virtually no interest.
  • Asylum and immigration were a preoccupation for just 4% of all Asians, although 56% supported a tougher government line in future, the figure ranging from 47% for Muslims to 66% for Hindus and 75% for Sikhs.
  • Muslims (47%) were less optimistic than Hindus (31%) or Sikhs (38%) about the prospect of Britain ever having an Asian prime minister. However, one-fifth of them (about the same proportion of all Asians) thought there might be one within 20 years.

Overall, the survey provides no strong evidence for a distinctively Asian religious vote. Only among Muslims does religion impinge to a limited extent on politics, and this seems disproportionately to be a function of their concerns about British foreign policy in Afghanistan, the military involvement there (as in Iraq beforehand) being seen to be in some senses a war on Islam.

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